Interview with Randy L. Schmidt, author of “Judy Garland on Judy Garland: Interviews and Encounters”
Randy L. Schmidt is the author of the critically-acclaimed Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter and compiled and edited the newly updated and expanded Yesterday Once More: The Carpenters Reader. Schmidt’s book, Judy Garland on Judy Garland: Interviews and Encounters, was released in September 2014. In 2017, he will provide the foreword for the unfinished memoir, Judy and I, by Sid Luft, Judy Garland’s husband and manager for many years.
Schmidt has served as creative consultant for several television documentaries on the Carpenters, including the E! “True Hollywood Story,” A&E’s “Biography,” VH1’s “Behind the Music,” and assisted with other productions for BBC and ITV in London, and NHK in Japan. He has also written articles for the Advocate and the Observer.
Schmidt holds a degree in music education and teaches elementary music in Denton, Texas. He was named the district’s Elementary Teacher of the Year in 2011.
The Judy Room: Congratulations on the success of your book, Judy Garland on Judy Garland: Interviews and Encounters, which just came out in paperback. How did you get the idea for the book? And how did you go about amassing all the documentation needed for it?
Randy L. Schmidt: Thank you! It was such a pleasure to work on a project devoted to Judy Garland. She’s someone I have admired as long as I can remember. She was such a huge part of my young life and certainly played a part in making me who I am today. The idea for the book came shortly after the publication of my Karen Carpenter biography, Little Girl Blue. When that book began to really take off, my editor at Chicago Review Press said, “Well, what’s your next book?” I hadn’t even considered a “next” book, but I was thrilled that they wanted me to do more work with them. I found out about a series of books they publish that’s called Musicians in Their Own Words. There have been books like Coltrane on Coltrane, Hendrix on Hendrix, and so on, but no females and nothing really outside of the jazz and rock genres. I proposed Judy as a subject for the series and they loved the idea. As for collecting the material, I reached out to a number of Garland fans and collectors for help. I also took research trips to New York and Los Angeles. The special collections at places like the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and the Margaret Herrick Library were so helpful and provided treasure troves of material, much of which hadn’t been in print for many decades. Because most of the material fell into public domain, there was less work to do in terms of obtaining reprint permission and such.
JR: Were you a Garland fan prior to your work on Judy Garland on Judy Garland: Interviews and Encounters?
RLS: Absolutely. I became at fan at the age of three or four. Like most people my age, I fell in love with Dorothy and was among the last generation to experience the annual event that was the airing of The Wizard of Oz on CBS. I began to learn more about Judy, outside of Oz, when I was six or seven and began to understand who she was and that her reach went far beyond that one film.
JR: There are certain documents, such as the Random House manuscript and the McCall’s articles, which are not included. Can you tell us how that happened?
RLS: The Random House manuscript has some wonderful passages but it is not all you might think. In fact, about half of it amounts to a mishmash of notes written by Freddie Finklehoffe, not even in Judy’s voice. I think he was just pressured to turn in something to the publisher and, in the end, he just put random thoughts and ramblings down on paper. The document wouldn’t have stood alone well in the book, so I decided to just use excerpts from it in my narrative sections as needed. Also, I ran into the fact that because it was unpublished, Random House and the Columbia University Special Collections wouldn’t allow me to publish it verbatim without express permission of Judy’s estate, and at that time I had no luck getting a response from Joe or Lorna. That was the same issue with the McCall’s and Ladies’ Home Journal pieces post-1964. That year is a key year in material in the public domain. Material published prior to January 1, 1964 and not renewed is in public domain. Anything after that date requires permission from the author/publisher. Both of those publications, McCall’s and Ladies’ Home Journal, gave me their blessing but required that I get the approval of Judy’s estate since those articles bear her name as author. Again, no response from the family prior to publication of the book, so I was advised by the publisher to leave them out. Now that Lorna is a fan of the book, I know it would have been no problem, but we weren’t willing to take that risk.
JR: Many of the tapes Garland recorded for the planned Random House book have been in circulation in collectors’ circles for years. Did you consider transcribing these and including them in the book?
RLS: Yes, I did consider transcribing those tapes and including the full transcripts. I did use many of the quotes from them, but the way the book series is laid out, transcriptions of those tapes would have been super lengthy and wouldn’t have worked well. Also, the idea of ownership was questioned by my publisher and using them without the family’s permission, again, was frowned upon.
JR: Some of the information in the movie magazines, such as the fact that Judy was reading Mein Kampf in the 1940s, seems more hype than fact. Should the reader believe everything printed in the 1930s and 1940s?
RLS: There’s definitely a lot of hype and sometimes fluff in those early pieces from the movie fan magazines. Some of that is a product of the studio’s publicity machine and some was exaggerated by the writers. I thought the material was important for a number of reasons, though, and especially that it’s a time capsule, really. I tried to make sure that readers knew not to believe everything, of course, which is why I included several disclaimers, you might say. At first, I tried to correct things and the manuscript was a little messy with editorial notes. I finally decided it was best to leave things as they were. As I stated in the Preface, “aside from the occasional notating of blatant factual errors, I have elected to keep these interviews and encounters complete, intact, and uninterrupted, presenting them for the sake of presentation and preservation.”
JR: The book presents Judy in her own words, without a point of view. What is your point of view on Judy Garland?
RLS: I think Judy was a very complex and layered individual. Her talent was so much bigger than she was that she simply emitted it at every moment. Her tiny body could hardly contain all that was within her.
JR: Are there things you discovered in putting together the book?
RLS: I think what was most eye-opening was Judy’s sense of optimism. Even in the recordings where she was alone with a tape recorder, sure, there were negatives and rants, but overall she was a forward-thinking person with aspirations and goals. She wasn’t one to roll around in her tragedies. She picked herself up and kept right on going. The press would have had us think otherwise. And of course, we knew she was funny, but that witty sense of humor shone through in nearly every piece in the book. She was such a comedian.
JR: Did your perspective on Garland change after working on the book?
RLS: Somewhat. I think I saw her more as a tragic figure in the beginning, but this book helped me to see that she wasn’t tragic. One thing that does make me sad is that she seemed to have a vision for herself and her career, but she never seemed to be surrounded by the right people to help make her dreams come true. They were users. I wish she’d been able to be a stronger, more independent business woman and could have made decisions on her own.
JR: You traveled extensively in promoting Judy Garland on Judy Garland: Interviews and Encounters. Do you have any anecdotes for us? What was your experience with the Garland fan base?
RLS: Yes! I was able to visit New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles sharing the book and presenting her stories. It was so much fun to meet the fans in each city and hear their stories of Judy fandom. The Garland fan base is fiercely protective of Judy and sometimes a little territorial, but with rare exception, I have felt welcome and a part of the fan community. I am quick to admit that I am a Judy enthusiast who happened to have the opportunity to do this book. I make no claims of being a Judy authority or expert! I feel like I have learned a lot from fellow fans and continue to learn from them every day.
JR: What are your favorite Garland recordings and films?
RLS: I have lots of favorites and they change frequently, but two recordings come to mind. “By Myself,” the slower version, and “If I Love Again” are favorites. Something about that one is so simple and so lovely. And it’s unusually beautiful to hear her accompanied by an acoustic guitar. As for her films, after Oz I am partial to Meet Me in St. Louis, Summer Stock, and A Star is Born.
JR: You previously authored a popular biography on Karen Carpenter, Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter. Many Garland fans are also fans of Ms. Carpenter. Do you see any correlation in their work?
RLS: I do, believe it or not! I think what the women had in common is the ability to just sing a song. No vocal acrobatics or showing off. They just sang. Also, they were both what I would call “communicators” of a song. They sang with an intimacy that connects to the listener on a one-to-one level. You feel as though they’re singing only to you. It’s interesting, too, that both Judy and Karen have a strength to their voices but it also verges on emotional frailty at times.
RLS: The books are very different in approach. Little Girl Blue is a straightforward biography, researched and written over a 10 year period and with the cooperation of more than 100 interviewees. That was all written by me, start to finish. A book like Judy on Judy is a ton of work, too, but in a different way. It’s more of a two-year type of project and one that is spent assembling a collection of pieces from various sources. I definitely knew more in terms of working with the publisher and editors and so on the second time around!
JR: Could you tell us a bit about the forthcoming Sid Luft memoir, which will be coming out in 2017, and for which you will be writing an afterword?
RLS: This is not in any way “my” project or anything I proposed. It was shopped to the publisher by an agent on behalf of the Sid Luft Living Trust, which is, of course, Joe Luft and his associates. They have lots of ideas on the horizon, most notably the new Judy Garland hologram set to tour the United States in 2017. It is my understanding that they came across the manuscript for Sid’s unfinished memoir, Judy and I, and decided it deserved to be seen and shared. I’d heard a lot of negative things about it from fans over the years, so I was pleasantly surprised when I read it and found out I liked a lot of it. Unfortunately, it’s incomplete. It comes to an end in 1960. One idea was to leave it as is and close with an Afterword, but more recently the approach of the publisher has changed and I will be providing the Foreword instead. The book will now be “finished” through the use of material from several interviews Sid gave during the 1990s. His quotes will be crafted into several additional chapters.
© 2016 Scott Brogan, The Judy Room & Judy Garland News & Events